I entered The House of Mirrors’ Go-Go Bar by the back door marked ‘Staff Only’, and made my way through a gloomily lit corridor to the place’s only dressing room. Yeah, I know... the irony that someone like me was working in a place called The House of Mirrors wasn’t lost on me, but after three years it was wearing a bit thin.
For once I had the dressing room to myself, and I gingerly stepped through an obstacle course of discarded high-heeled shoes, boots and costumes until I reached the area with the vanities. I pushed aside a heap of tangled feather-boas and flopped down on the chair that had been hiding underneath.
A glance at the Beer O’Clock-clock on the wall told me that my shift had started ten minutes ago. I shrugged out of my jacket, pulled off the black T-shirt sporting the German Neo-Medieval, darkwave band Sopor Aeternus’ logo, and wriggled into a sequenced top that barely covered my breasts. Then I opened my purse and started digging through layers of scrunched up receipts, paper tissues and old candy wrappers until I finally struck gold and could fish out my small make-up kit. Avoiding to look directly in to my own eyes in the mirror, I touched up the lipstick and applied a second coating of eye-liner and mascara. Thus fortified, I got up and headed for the door, once again stepping over the shoes and clothes-items left by the dancers.
I was about to put my hand on the handle when the door suddenly flew open and I was bowled over by almost 300 pounds of sweaty muscle.
“Oups!” Strong hands caught me, saving me from a nasty spill. “You okay?”
I looked up into a dusky, handsome face and nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks, Choco.”
Edgar ‘Chocolate’ Cortez, who was working his way through med-school and was one of the club’s most popular male dancers, flashed me a grin before reaching for a towel. “Anytime, Mary. They’re few, but man, they’re biting.” His southern drawl was as slow as molasses as the saying went, and just as sweet. He toweled off and rubbed a hand over his buzz cut. “Georgie was asking for you yesterday. He was pretty pissed that you didn’t show up for your shift.”
“Yeah, well… I was elsewhere engaged”, I mumbled, avoiding his raised eyebrows and questioning gaze. This wasn’t the first time I had missed a shift because of who I was. What I was. And it probably wouldn’t be the last. “So, it’s slow tonight?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I guess most people prefer to stay home, curled up next to their fans and AC-systems where it’s safe and cool. Where the Angel of Death can’t get them. But the brave souls we do have here are very drunk, and very generous.” He reached into his purple and gold banana hammock and pulled out a wad of slightly moist bills. I took a step back just in case he was going to wave them around.
“Great. Good for you. Please tell me you’ll sanitize them before you put them back into circulation.”
Choco grinned again, his teeth flashing very white against his dark complexion as he brought the folded dollar-bills to his nose and inhaled deeply. “Aahh… It’s pure ambrosia, baby. It’s the smell of a good quality steak and some serious wine to go with it, not that cheap stuff Georgie servers the punters!” He laughed when I wrinkled my nose and took another step back.
“That’s disgusting even for you.” But I couldn’t keep the smile out of my voice. It was hard not to smile around Choco. The guy was good humor personified. “I better get out there before Georgie fires me”, I said, as the male stripper started fanning himself with the bills.
“He would never do that. You’re the only person skinny enough to get into that tiny lil’ sparkling top that goes for a bartender’s uniform at this joint.” Choco let his clear blue eyes slide down my chest before going back up to my face. “I gotta tell ya’, you can seriously pull off the look.”
“What look?” I asked, quickly pulling a brush through my hair. It fell down my shoulders in waves, framing round cheeks and a slightly too narrow chin. I tilted my head and pursed my lips, striking a duck face pose at him. “Financially challenged bartender with a stack of bills to pay and a hungry cat to feed?”
“Nah, mysterious girl with secrets.” There was a seriousness in those baby blues of his that made me blush and duck my head.
“I don’t have any secrets”, I mumbled, knowing it was a lie.
“Sure you do”, he drawled. “You have that look in your eyes.”
“What look is that?” I couldn’t help but to ask, knowing that what I really should do was get the hell out of the dressing room and as far away from the tall, muscular, incredibly sexy man who was watching me with this look of genuine interest and attraction as I could.
“That thousand mile stare. My Uncle’s a Gulf War vet. He has that same look, the look that says he’s been to hell and back.”
“So, I remind you of your Uncle?” I asked, keeping my tone light and my eyes on myself in the mirror as I quickly twisted my hair up in a bun using a scrunchy to hold it in place.
He grinned that knee-weakening grin again. “Yeah, I guess you do. With less five O’clock shadow and without the blood-shot eyes.”
“Aww…” I laughed as I turned from the mirror and headed for the door again. “You really know how to make a girl feel special.”
Choco was laughing too. “Anytime, chica.”
I LEFT THE DRESSING ROOM with the warm sound of his laughter still in my ears. It soon drowned in the noise coming from the club. Karen Kamon’s Manhunter was blaring from the speakers, telling me that Nina was strutting her stuff on the stage even before I pushed the leather-clad door open and entered the club’s main area.
The Mirror House lived up to its name. Both the walls and ceiling were all covered in mirror-glass, giving a dizzying illusion that it stretched out into more dimensions than just the three we normally have to deal with.
Like Choco had said, it was a slow night, especially for being a Friday. The heatwave had had the city in an iron grip for the last couple of weeks, and like Choco had said, the heat together with the fear of the serial killer running rampant, kept the people off the streets and indoors with their AC’s cranked up. A thing I was grateful for. After the day I’d had, I really didn’t feel up to having to handle grabby customers. As it were, the only greedy hands I would have to look out for was Georgie’s.
As the owner of The Mirror House, Georgie King saw himself as the only customer at an all you can eat buffet, and Georgie was a glutton. I’d had to wriggle out of his overt attempts to get me in bed more times than I could remember. Over the years, it had become second nature to stave off his clumsy attempts to pressure me to have sex with him without actually breaking his balls. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he actually paid the wages and on time, I’d left the place long ago.
I glanced at the stage. Nina was shaking her ass in front of a guy who looked like he had died and gone to heaven. She noticed me and gave me a smile and a little wave before turning her attention back to the middle-aged man. It was up there that the real money was earned. On a good night, a popular dancer could walk away with 400 cash easy. That was more than I earned in a week, working the bar.
Choco might have thought that it was the fact that I could squeeze myself into the skimpy outfit that was Georgie’s reason for not firing me despite my habit of being late for my shifts, or not show up at all, but I think it was because I accepted the ridiculously low wages. He knew he would never be able to get another bartender as good as me that cheap.
Not having to worry about food or electricity does wonders for your finances. Like me, Islington has no need of food for his survival, though he enjoys to be served a tin of canned tuna from time to time. You see, technically, neither of us are really alive anymore. Yes, that lump of muscle and tissue inside of me contracts and expands in a steady rhythm, and my chest heaves at a slow and regular rate. But it’s just camouflage, a way to move among you mortals without being discovered.
“You’re late! Again!”
Georgie glared at me above his pride and joy - a mustache that had been in style around the time when the Lusitania was built. “I should fire your ass, Mary!”
I gave him a little smile, slipping behind the bar. “You won’t.”
The owner of The House of Glass crossed his arms in front his chest and gave me another glare, his elaborate ’stach twitching with annoyance. “Oh, is that fucking so?”
I dropped the smile. “Yeah, it is, and stop trying to intimidate me, Georgie. It’s not working.” I turned the smile back on as a sweaty guy slid a bill across the bar, ordering a beer. He gave me a look then turned his attention back to the curvy Nina. I couldn’t blame him. She was gorgeous.
“This conversation isn’t over, missy”, Gerogie hissed, but there wasn’t much venom in his voice. He knew as well as I did that whatever he said, he wouldn’t fire me.
A COUPLE OF hours later I served what felt like the millionth beer for the night when he walked into the club.